Here is what the morning monsoon sky looked like when we left Sierra Vista at 5:15am for our hour and a half ride to Chiricahua.
It is monsoon season so we have lots of clouds in the sky all the time.
The hikers consisted of about 20 international soldiers from Fort Huachuca representing about 10 countries. These soldiers come to Fort Huachuca for a six months course in military intelligence. They know English very well because all their classes are in English. They stay at the Marriott Hotel during their six month stay and travel to the Fort for their classes.
Rick and Jean, from our parish, Our Lady of the Mountains, have a hiking club and the international soldiers are eager to join in order to see parts of Arizona. The soldiers on our hike came from Belize, Philippines, Latvia, Taiwan and many more countries that you would never think has an Army and for sure would never send thenm to the U.S. to be trained in espionage, military planning and so on. After their six months of classroom work they return to their countries and then teach their fellow soldiers what they learned.
Also part of our hiking group were hikers from Sierra Vista, parishioners and our pastor, Father Ariel Lustan. We traveled in five cars. We had to stop at the border patrol inspection station outside of Benson. Our leaders, Rick and Jean, who are very experienced hikers, were in the lead car and let the border patrol agents know that we had international soldiers from the Fort and they were joining us on a hike. This way they would not be stopped and made to get out of their car and show their passports etc.
We had to travel through the Town of Wilcox as the Chiricahua National Park is 35 miles southeast of Wilcox. As we got close to the National Park here are some pictures taken from the truck we rode in. Remember that, Chiricahua is called "The Land of Standing Up Rocks".
Once we entered the park we drove to Massai Point where we all got out of our vehicles. You had a choice of the short hike 3.5 miles or the long hike of 5 miles through Echo Valley. Myself and the hikers I rode with chose the long hike - we were up to the challenge or so we thought.
As you enter Chiricahua National Monument you are climbing up a sky island-an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding grassland sea. Meadows dotted with cactus and mesquite begin to fill up with sycamore, juniper, and oak trees. Farther up are cypress, pine and fir woodlands. It's the rock pinnacles looming over the road like guardians of the forest that announce you're in Chiricahua country.
The Chiricahua Apache called these pinnacles "standing up rocks."
We began our hike and there were many stops to take pictures. Six of us decided to branch off from our group and go at a faster pace to really make it a hike. We still had time for pictures. The sites of the "Standing Up Rocks" were awesome. Here are a few of them. Try naming them by how they look.
Following the path around the rocks. As you turned corners you never knew what rock formations you would see.
The trails were made in 1933 by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal to help turn around the economy after The Great Depression. These workers had a very difficult task making trails through the rocks and with a very steep climb. One wonders how they got their equipment in here to break away the trail.The workers received $30 a month and $25 of this was sent home to their families.
Known as "Balanced Rock"
Our pastor, Fr. Ariel Lustan, showing how agile and daring he is.
We brought water, Gatorade, sandwiches and snacks to eat along the trail.
Looking down instead of up.
Elevation is 9,763 feet.
80 % of this park was burned last May in one of the major AZ fires. The park was closed for about a month. You can still see the charred trees in some areas.
Our Filipino hikers shared the lunch they made for all of us:egg rolls, adobe chicken and rice. To my surprise and relief the hikers who took the shorter hike drove our vehicle to the Visitor Center so we didn't have to hike all the way back.
Some of my hiking partners.
On our ride back to Sierra Vista an Arizona white tailed deer crossed the road in front of our truck. We also passed several border patrol agents parked along the highway. One followed us for a distance and then stopped us. The agent asked if we were all U.S. citizens which we were. All of the people in the truck were Filipinos except for me. This is the first time I was stopped by the Border Patrol while traveling on a highway.
Once we got back from the Land of Standing Up Rocks we got ready for the 5:00pm Mass and the 21st Anniversary Party of our Parish - Our Lady of the Mountains. After Mass a potluck dinner was held for over 100 people in our parish hall.
Father Ariel offers the blessing over the food before we eat.
Presenting the anniversary cake.
There was entertainment for the evening. Different parishioners shared their talents.
Brother and sister act.
A great evening of fellowship. Many parishioners were part of the founding group 21 years ago.
This was quite a Saturday and a great welcome back to beautiful Arizona and the friendliness of our parishioners.
Appropriately, at Mass tonight, Father Ariel read a letter he received from a winter visitor who came to our church for Mass. He complimented the parish on their welcoming spirit during Mass and great hospitality afterwards. That is very true. You visit Our Lady of the Mountains Parish and you will be warmly welcomed as you enter the doors by our ushers and at the beginning of Mass when our pastor asks who is visiting our parish for the first time. They are given a warm welcome of applause then. And you can be sure that after Mass in our courtyard someone will come to talk to you and find out more about you and invite you to come again.